I've Forgotten the Punchline

"It's time for you to go."

John looks up first, wide-eyed surprise clear on his face, and hurt coming in at a close second. "Go, Doctor?"

Sherlock's face betrays nothing. He doesn't even glance up. But his normally bright eyes are dark. "He means leave, John. We're being evicted."

"Why?" John asks, and there's a deep sort of panic in his chest. "What'd we do?"

"No, no," the Doctor says, and his tone is so deflated and defeated that it muffles the panic in John immediately. "You haven't done anything. My fault, really. Should never have taken you on in the first place, technically. Difficult to explain."

"Try me," Sherlock murmurs, and when he looks up, there's a challenge in him.

And the Doctor can't ignore a challenge. Especially not from Sherlock Holmes. So he takes a long breath and settles in between the two of them at the table.

"A long time ago, there was a chap named Arthur. Good man, lousy ophthalmologist, brilliant writer…"

He tells a long story. About Victorian London, a magazine called The Strand, and a consulting detective. He uses a lot of words that don't make sense (and some words that don't exist, because the Doctor is too busy to bother remembering the proper ones). Temporal displacement, he tells them, happens more often than anyone thinks—there's one story about Abraham Lincoln appearing in a shopping mall in the 1980s that he starts to tell, but Sherlock gets him back on track with a look alone. Going from not existing at all to taking a flat on Baker Street is another thing entirely.

"You see, there's always a bit of leeway between reality and fiction, just like there's a bit of elbow room before you hop between dimensions and sometimes you open the fridge in one time and find yourself peeking in on the boudoir of a Bennett. Bit awkward, let's not talk about it." The Doctor musses his hair liberally before he begins again. "Because, you see, I've met you before. Not you, but you from… okay this is more difficult than I thought." He presses his hands to his head like a vice, as if to squeeze the information out. "You know those nasty instances when you meet an Elder God and the only person who can help you is the greatest detective of all time?"

John and Sherlock exchange a questioning glance.

"Obviously not," the Doctor sighs. "Some time in my past I found you, a different set of yous, and you gave me a bit of help. Hence all the temporal displacement business. You know, you really make this hard on a Timelord." He tuts, sighs, and shakes his head.

"So we exist," John says, rubbing the heels of both his hands into his eyes wearily, "but we don't."

"Exactly," the Doctor chimes in brightly. "Brilliant Doctor Watson, I knew I liked you."

"Your point is that you should never have absconded with a temporally-displaced version of ourselves," Sherlock adds quietly.

"Yes, bit not good," the Doctor admits. "I didn't take you then, and I shouldn't have taken you now, but honestly, how could I resist Sherlock Holmes?"

"Bollocks," John says suddenly, and rather louder than he meant it. But he doesn't apologize or correct himself, and the Doctor smirks softly because of it. "You're the sort of thing that drops out of the sky and changes everything, and if you think you haven't done good for us, I'll punch you in the mouth right now. If you think you can change anything, if you think you've got to, because we're wrong or something, I'll stop you. I will, Doctor."

And the Doctor grins. Grabs John's face in both of his hands and smushes his cheeks fondly. "Brilliant Doctor Watson, you are brilliant. And I'm going to miss you awfully you're so brilliant. Of course I'm not changing anything. I never change the good I've done, if I can help it."

"Conceited," Sherlock adds, the ghost of a smirk in his eyes.

"Never," the Doctor adds, mad smile on his face. "The two of you have much more important things to do than run around the universe with a mad old man and his box."

"Doubt it," John says, and there's pain in his smile, but he forces through it.

"Trust me," the Doctor says. He claps a hand on either man's shoulder. "I can take care of the universe. Look after London for me, won't you?"

Amy and Rory don't understand. The Doctor knows it's best not to throw around words like "fictional" when a man's spent 2,000 years as a Roman, so he doesn't. He says everything has its time, and the stowaways have had time enough in the TARDIS. At first, Amy gets angry. And then she gets sad. And then she won't stop laughing for long periods of time. But mostly she's confused and everyone knows she'll miss them most of all. She's their heart, their big, strong heart, and she feels as though she's losing bits of herself when they land in Baker Street and Sherlock and John walk out the door hand in hand.

"It's been the best. Really," and the Doctor pauses, smiles so very sadly and so very kindly, "the best."

He goes to leave a kiss on the top of John's head, and Sherlock pulls the Doctor in for an embrace before he can attempt it. So the three of them huddle together, a tangle of arms.

Amy flat-out kisses Sherlock on the lips. Rory and John, instantly jealous for good reason, threaten the same. Sherlock casually waves them on, and Rory blushes too hard and shakes John's hand vigorously instead. Amy laughs. She's crying, but she laughs, clinging to John's jumper like she never intends to let go.

"Amy," John says, smiling for her.

"Go on," she says, sniffling behind the guise of a grin. "You weirdos be safe, all right?"

"And, should you need us," the Doctor adds solemnly.

"Phone's always on," Rory finishes for them, hugging Amy to his side.

And when they retreat back inside, before they take off, Sherlock runs his hand up and down the side of the blue box fondly, smirking at last.

"See you, old girl," John says for him.

She sings when she takes off, saying goodbye.

The console phone rings, and Rory is the closest. When he picks it up, he winces back from the receiver and grimaces in the Doctor's direction. "It's just… pinging at me," he frowns.

The Doctor swoops in, presses a button to send the noise to speaker. The same repetition of pings over and over. The Doctor smirks.

"Hello, boys," he mutters, grinning wildly. He scampers to the other side of the console, flipping levers and mashing buttons on the typewriter seemingly at random.

"Sorry, what is it?" Rory asks, knitting his brows together.

"Coordinates!" the Doctor says gleefully. "If I'm right, and I usually am, it sounds like a little place west of Brighton. Sussex, England. 2034. Summer. I hope neither of you is allergic to bees."

And before they can answer, the TARDIS is humming and she's off.

They materialize halfway down a long gravel drive lined with young trees. The cottage is low to the ground, cozy, and exactly the sort of place one doesn't expect to find Sherlock Holmes.

"How long has it been?" Amy asks tentatively, worry pressing at her brow as they make their way slowly down the path. Rory clutches her hand, keeps her close.

"For us or for them?" the Doctor asks, looking at his watch.

"For them, you big idiot," Amy says with a roll of her eyes. She doesn't let anyone know that she counts the days (it's been 102 days without John and Sherlock, 102 days she's thought John would have said... or Sherlock would have done...).

"Twenty-three years," the Doctor says, and it's a bit hollow and solemn. "Blimey."

"Blimey," Rory echoes. "Wonder why they didn't call 'til now."

The Doctor frowns.

He's not used to knocking. He tries ringing the bell, but it doesn't work. He knocks three times on the door, waits five seconds, and then three times again.

John opens the door. It's John, their John, but he's not the same man they left behind 102 days ago. He's gone all gray, and there are more lines around his eyes than they remember. Twenty-three years sitting on him like a cloak, his shoulders hunched up, and a strange look of confusion in his eyes.

Then he smiles, and he straightens, and he's exactly the man they remember. "Missed by a bit, Doctor," he says with a laugh in his voice.

Amy launches herself at him, and he catches her with an oof! But he grips her just as tightly (harder, grinning into her shoulder), and when he sees Rory standing there with a half-open mouth about to say something, John grabs him too. Gives him a full-on kiss like he promised, then waves everyone inside like it hadn't even happened (Rory stuttering and bright red in the ears).

"Sherlock!" John calls, taking off into the cottage like a man half his age. "Sherlock, they've finally got here! Sherlock, put down the phosphorous, they're here!"

The detective is still all angles, but somehow softer. There's gray in his hair that no one points out, and sometimes he winces like he's hiding an old pain, and no one points that out, either. There's actual warmness in his smile when he sees the three time-travelers, and he presses a kiss at Amy's temple before she can wrap her arms around him.

Then he meets the Doctor's eye. The two level gazes at one another for almost too long, calculating and reading (and the companions exchange glances, on the edge of worried). Sherlock breaks first, saying: "I called three months ago."

The Doctor shifts from one foot to the other. "Sorry. Must've misplaces a decimal somewhere. My fault."

Sherlock doesn't smile with his mouth, but his eyes shine. "It's good to see you."

"Pleasure's all mine," the Doctor says with a grin.

They all gather in the sitting room and John makes tea. And they make small talk for a record amount of time for the Doctor (and Sherlock, who's never bothered with small talk in his life, takes far too much time and is far too dull) before they get to the root of it all.

John levels his eyes at the Doctor. "Can I see her?"

The Doctor's face lights up. "Oh, she's missed you two."

John's fingertips tentatively find the wood of the TARDIS door, touch there briefly, and his smile warms immediately. He presses his forehead to the door, shuts his eyes, and he laughs. "Missed you, too."

Sherlock watches John with a soft smile, runs his eyes all over the TARDIS, and when he turns back to the Doctor, the Timelord has his arms folded across his chest and is watching the both of them knowingly. And the grin only magnifies when Sherlock shakes his head.

"It's a dream for younger men, Doctor," Sherlock says.

"Bah," the Doctor snaps playfully. "I'm 911 and you don't see me bellyaching. And Rory's at least 2,000. Sometimes."

"We couldn't possibly," Sherlock protests, but he knows he's going to lose this argument.

"Just a quick hop and a skip, nothing serious. No running, I promise. Well, maybe some running. There's usually running."

"Yes," John says immediately, rounding on them. And his face is ten years younger, full of excitement and adventure that he can hardly contain.

"John," Sherlock protests.

"To hell with my leg," John cuts in, knowing precisely what Sherlock will say. "To hell with everything, just say yes, Sherlock."

And the detective sighs deeply. John gives a victorious bark of a laugh, and he doesn't say another word before throwing the TARDIS door open and dashing inside.

The Doctor meets Sherlock's reluctant stare with a giddy grin. "Come along, Ponds!" the Doctor calls, and he piles into the TARDIS after John.

"He's dying," Sherlock says, and Amy looks up with a frightened snap of her head. It's just the two of them in the lounge, listening to the TARDIS at rest. Listening to her breathe (and Amy wonders if she's listening right back).

"John? No. Of course not." She's shaking her head stubbornly. "Not John."

"Everyone dies," Sherlock mutters. He doesn't seem upset in the least. But Amy knows him, knows him better than almost anyone (almost). He's devastated.

"No, he made a promise," Amy protests. "On the Dalek ship. I remember."

"It was an empty promise," Sherlock cuts in. "I know that. He knows it, we all know he's going to die." He stares at the ground for a long time, and when he speaks again, it's even lower. "And I'll be alone again."

Amy doesn't know what to say. It sits like bricks in her stomach, churns and makes her sick. But she scoots closer to Sherlock, closes his hand in both of hers, and when they lock eyes, his are so unfathomably sad. He doesn't say anything, just drops his eyes away, like there's no fight left in him. So she musses his curls, smiles for him, and prompts his chin back up to look at her.

"Tell me," she says firmly.

"His heart," Sherlock says at last. It hurts, the way he tries to smile. "He's used it far too much, and it won't last him long. He gives himself two months, the second opinion says less. He wants to spend it running."

Sherlock's throat gives out on him, and the noise he makes is too desperate. He hides his face in his hand, but Amy won't let him. Pulls him in and holds him. And they stay like that for ages, until Rory finds them and pulls them away for cocoa.

And then everyone knows. Because Amy can't keep a secret. Not for long. John says he doesn't want a fuss and if they don't all stop looking at him like he's a three-legged puppy, he's going to hit all of them. Smiles as he says it, doesn't look sad or afraid.

"I've seen the universe," John says with a wide shrug. "I've died before. It's not so bad."

And when it's dark and he has the Doctor alone in the console room, John circles twice, slowly, before he has the nerve to speak.

"Take us somewhere we haven't any right to go." He holds a hand to the console, feels it hum. The Doctor levels a sad look in his direction, and John looks away with a shrug. "I don't want to die in bed," he says, leaning up against the console with his eyes aloft. "I want to die doing something fantastic."

The Doctor smiles. "I'd like the chance to die nice and quiet, someday. It always ends up so frantic, in the end. You don't get to say what you'd like to, most times. I've done it lots of times. Dying, that is. It'd be nice, just once, to do it someplace comfortable. With people I like standing all around and smiling. None of that crying business, that's rubbish. Going out with a smile, I'd like that. Just once."

John shakes his head fondly, smirks. "Brilliant Doctor."

John falls to one knee, hand to his chest, and Sherlock turns back for him. Explosions are going off everywhere, laser blasts flying through the thick air, and the sound of never-ending sirens pelting their ears. But Sherlock goes to the ground beside John, holds him, looks him right in the eye as everything goes to hell around them.

Even through the stuttered breathing, even through the pain and the noise and the chaos, John smiles. Looks into Sherlock's face and grins. And so does Sherlock.

If Rory could read lips, he'd know that John says I love you when he touches his forehead to Sherlock's.

Amy cries out, tells the Doctor to do something. He pauses that frantic pause where his brain tries to do everything at once, and it's a pause too much.

So it's Rory who saves them. Runs in swinging at their enemies with nothing but a length of pipe. He knocks two of the troopers out and sends the other three running back the way they came. He drops to his knee just as Amy and the Doctor catch them up, and he finds John's pulse immediately.

"You're not gonna die while I'm here," Rory says, smiling warmly. "Sherlock, keep him breathing steady. Doctor, we can't move him, go get the TARDIS and pick us up here. Amy, look after him."

"Big hero, Rory Williams! You're fantastic, you're the King of the Nurses," the Doctor raves, grinning madly. He tries to come up with a better title, but Amy gets him moving before he can waste any more time. And by the time Rory and Sherlock get John's breathing steady and calm, the TARDIS materializes beside them and they can carry John safely inside before more troopers come along.

Sometimes, things work out, even if they don't plan them that way.

Amy hardly lets Rory alone, covering his face in kisses (and even once he frees himself, he finds the Doctor's arms locked around him). It's Sherlock's honest smile that does him in, though. He cracks a laugh, doesn't know why his vision blurs, and Amy holds him close to hide her own weakness.

"Our terms," John says, breathing still uneven but in his control. "We'll do this on our terms."

"My terms," Sherlock says with a half smirk.

"Bastard." John grins.

"I love you, too," Sherlock says, pressing a kiss to John's forehead.

"I won't blame you if you don't come," John says, trying to sit up in bed and wincing at the strain. "It'll be all maudlin and boring, not the sort of thing you usually stand for." He smiles nonetheless.

"Yeah," the Doctor says sadly. "Funerals... not really my... area." He clears his throat, tries to make it clear that he is absolutely not crying. "I'd rather leave off with this sort of memory. A good one, where you're still... above ground." He attempts a strong smile. "Brave heart, John."

"Brave heart, Doctor," John says, smiling almost too wide for his face. He takes the Doctor's hand, squeezes it, and tries to get the Timelord to look him in the eye. "Doctor. For God's sake, look at me, won't you?"

Okay, yes, he is crying, but he doesn't have to like it. John laughs, and it's a brilliant sort of sound.

"Thank you," is all he says. It means everything.

Amy puts on her bravest face, kisses John's brow, and holds him strongly (not afraid to break him, John Watson will never be breakable). "Love you," she says around the horrible thing in her throat.

"Yeah," Rory says, face puckering and finally settling on a smile. "What she said."

"You two," John says with a giggle, and he shakes his head, and that's that.

The Doctor pulls Sherlock into a tight embrace, gives him an encouraging smile and he whispers words only for him. "You're never alone, Sherlock."

When the sound of the TARDIS has faded away, Sherlock lets it all wash away with them. He crawls into bed beside John, laces their fingers together, and shuts his eyes.

It's the Doctor who suggests it, even though it's not the sort of thing he usually allows.

John opens the door of 221b Baker Street at twelve in the afternoon, five weeks after the Doctor decided temporally-displaced fictional characters weren't something he should have on the TARDIS, with the intent of grabbing a sandwich for lunch. John doesn't understand, firstly, what they're all doing on his doorstep, and secondly, why Amy is crying when she throws her arms around him.

The Doctor smiles. "Hello, doctor. Care for a spin?"

AN: and this is the (severely depressing) end of my Sherlock/Who fics! I didn't start this one planning on making it so SAD but it worked out that way. I apologize a million times. I hope it's a fitting end to the series, I hope you like, because I love these kids even when I kill them off. I love everyone who's given me support and everyone who read and enjoyed. Y'all are way amazing. Just sayin. Thanks so much for seeing me through, leave us some love, but above all STAY AWESOME! (btw, the adventure mentioned with previous incarnations of Holmes and Watson is a DW novel called "All-Consuming Fire" with the Seventh Doc. Haven't read it, but I REALLY WANT TO. Oh birthday present~)